Russian Style General Strength Training

If you are looking for serious long term strength training that you can do every day, with minimal equipment, in less than thirty minutes, take a look at Kettlebell Simple & Sinister.

Simple & Sinister is a strength endurance program of 100 kettlebell swings and 10 getups every day. It is meant to condition a person to always be ready for life, and to “store energy in the body rather than exhaust it” (Kettlebell Simple & Sinister). By training day after day, you adapt to a higher level of strength and endurance. You start with a small weight, develop solid form, and progress to the next weight. Rest days are fewer because the weight is relatively small.

Unlike powerlifting, kettlebell training does not aim for the highest possible weight lifted. Rather, it focuses on total body acceleration, and stable coordination of all parts of your body. It won’t directly add tons of weight to your barbell max. There is, however, ample evidence that there is unexpected improvement in bigger lifts.

The grass is always greener on the other side. If you don’t believe it, go to a park and find the greenest patch of grass and sit. Then look around and see if there’s greener. I assure you there is.

My powerlifting background taught me that training every day was not healthy. When I was squatting twice my body weight for sets of five, I needed at least a day of rest, if not three, for any benefit. So naturally I doubted the S&S protocol of daily training.

However, swings and getups were filling gaps in powerlifting training. For example, I’m building all-around shoulder stability in connection with the rest of my body. I’m also balancing the strength between the two sides of my body. These can easily be overlooked in basic powerlifting exercises. Back to the issue of daily training.

At first I was constantly sore, and it was certainly difficult to train every day. I would wake up to find my whole body tight and achy. Rather than decide not to train at that moment, I would put off the judgment call. Instead, I went through my morning routine. I drank butter coffee and journaled, basically enjoying life as I woke up. When training time came, I felt better and went for it.

It’s been about two and half months as of this writing, and my recovery time is shortening. I’ve managed to take just one day off in the last eight weeks. I’m doing all sets now with the 24kg, and my swings and getups are getting stronger. My callouses are smooth and my mind feels sharp. I look forward to training most days. Just like Tsatsouline says in Kettlebell Simple & Sinister, the exercise has become a “recharge” instead of a “workout”.

After the initial struggle, I started to look forward to the training. S&S is remarkably effortless compared to other strength programs.

First, the only equipment needed is the kettlebell. No gym, no shoes, no machines, no bars nor weights. S&S prescribes 8kg for average strength women and 16kg for average strength men.

Second, the exercise leaves me with plenty of energy for the rest of my day. I gradually adapted to the training, and became more efficient in the movements.

Finally, it’s convenient and accessible. Because it’s a small weight, I can keep it at home. This saves time and eliminates the ill effects of sitting in a car on the way to a gym. It also leaves little excuse for not training.

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As I transitioned from 16kg to the 24kg kettlebell, I felt much more tired at night and needed more food. But I stuck with it, ate a little more, and managed to train every day. The jumps in weight by proportion are much greater than with progression barbell training. I imagine the next transition to 32kg will be even harder. I look forward to that too.

Do some digging in the StrongFirst website to see if this is for you. If you decide to take on the kettlebell, I strongly recommend that you read the book first. Mind before matter.

Live powerfully.

Steve

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Copyright © 2017 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.

Why I Eat Grass Fed Butter

The Beginning

My life changed at age 26. It started with my disgust at the pain and suffering I experienced on a daily basis. I had aching joints from old injuries, depression, and low energy. I was lifting weights but it was bringing more pain than joy.

I decided to make a change. The first step was a different type of exercise, called progression strength training. Starting from the beginning, with very light weight, I relearned the basic strength movements. The emphasis was placed on training and learning, rather than “working out”, breaking a sweat, or pumping up my muscles.

As I developed better movement, I came upon a nutritional breakthrough. A friend that I had met at the gym introduced me to butter coffee. It was a powerful blend of grass fed butter, medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, and clean coffee. Because I was regularly training, I noticed some immediate changes when I started to drink butter coffee.

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My energy and focus was very high. I was on an elevated level of mental clarity not only at the start of training, but throughout the entire session. I was executing movements with much more precision. I could pinpoint problems and work very effectively to solve them. It was no longer necessary to get into “beast mode”, or hyper adrenaline driven states, to lift heavy. I could do a bit of meditative breathing and approach heavy lifts with calm.

I made a lot of changes to my diet. I began to eat fat. Lots of it. From grass fed animals, to wild fish, avocados, and eggs, I tried to obtain the best quality fats and ate as much as I wanted. It really doesn’t take much fat to satiate a person. But it takes more than you’d think, if you haven’t eaten much fat in a while.

My Mood Improved After a Few Weeks

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Six months into a diet based on grass fed beef, grass fed butter, white rice, and green leafy vegetables, my wife and I noticed a significant change in my temperament.

First and foremost, I am different today than I was five years ago. I used to have mood swings. At times throughout the day, I was suddenly angry, sad, or depressed, and felt helpless. Shortly after my friend introduced me to butter coffee, I noticed my mood swings diminish. I felt better, happier, lighter, and more focused – more in control of myself.

The mood swings disappeared. No more food coma. I stopped waking up in anger, because I no longer felt the generalized discomfort of inflammation. I was eating about 80 to 100 grams of grass fed butter and other healthy fats each day.

Grass fed butter is higher in omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA, than conventional grain fed butter. These two fats have been shown to reduce depression. I believe this was essential in dissolving my recurring bouts of depression and constant feelings of anger.

My Pain Went Away

I had frequent “tension” headaches before, and those stopped. Knee pain went away, walking became a comfortable and enjoyable thing. Back pain went away, and now I spend my mornings making coffee when I wake up instead of pacing off unbearable pain.

The elimination of knee and lower back pain had a great impact on my strength training. I was able to surpass previous plateaus because I wasn’t bothered by aching joints.

It makes sense to me that if fat is used in the development of cells in the body, the right type of fat will build the ideal structure of cell membrane. The wrong type of fat, or damaged fat, will build faulty and dysfunctional cell membranes.

Since nerves are also made of cells, I deduce that eating wholesome fats was largely effective in relieving pain.

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My Hair Turned Black Again

The top of my head had been peppered with gray and white hairs ever since the eighth grade. It was a hard period of life, on the backdrop of puberty. Genetics did not seem to be a factor, because no men in my immediate family had experienced this. Something within my biology was fundamentally affected by the stress I had experienced.

Then at age 26, when I made diet changes, my hair started to darken. At 31, my head of hair is as black as when I was a toddler.

This happened as I ramped up the amount of good fat in my diet.

Hair graying has been linked in the past to vitamin B12 deficiency. One subject was given supplemental B12 and their gray hair colored again. I think a lot of papers used this study as a source to link B12 and hair color.

Part of my diet changes at age 26 included supplementation of B12. But that’s not all to the story.

I also made a lot of other changes to my diet. Primarily, I began to eat fat. Lots of it. From grass fed animals, wild fish, avocados, to eggs, I tried to obtain the best quality fats and ate as much as I wanted. It really doesn’t take much fat to satiate a person. But it takes more than you’d think, if you haven’t eaten much fat in a while.

Hair color is determined by a function of the hair follicle. Hair follicles are made of cells. Cells have membranes which transport chemicals in and out. The proper functioning of the cell membrane will lead to the health of the cell, the follicle, and the hair. Part of this function has been found to be regulated by vitamin B12. Thus, the connection between hair color and this vitamin.

Interestingly enough, animal fats are a good source of B12. So it may be true that B12 has something to do with hair color.

Just supplementing B12 may have some effect on hair color.But I think the idea of only taking pills is limited. Think of the bigger picture.

If follicle cell membranes are made of fat, and if I provide good fats for the building of my cells, then it makes sense to me that my change in diet had some role in my hair color’s return to “normal”.

It was Easier to Retain My Strength and Muscle Mass

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With ample fat in my diet, my body was less and less prone to shed muscle during pauses in my strength training. I used to be a “hardgainer”. It was very hard to maintain muscle mass without daily whey protein shakes, massive amount of bread, pasta, and chicken breast. Even with creatine, I could hardly keep the muscle I made if I stopped going to the gym.

Magazines told me that this was just my body type. I needed to train hard all the time if I wanted to be muscular and fit. Even for a guy with my stamina and energy, that was hard to maintain over the years. I burned out.

When I regularly drank butter coffee in the mornings, my biology seemed to change. I was eating fewer meals – two, sometimes one –  but still gaining strength and muscle. At first it was confusing.

I noticed that I could go to the gym after two weeks of inactivity and still pick up from where I had left off in terms of weights. Maintenance of muscle and strength was much easier.

At 168 lbs. body weight, I was stronger than I had ever been in my life up to that point. From the time I began strength training with only butter coffee to sustain me, I had so much energy and focus that I didn’t injure myself once during training.

I was eating fewer meals, feeling more satiated, less hungry, and became stronger. I felt that I was on to something.

My Brain Regenerated

I had two minor concussions. The first in high school football, when I took a big hit to the facemask from a lineman. The second in college rugby, during a tackle drill. This second time was more severe, and I temporarily forgot the names of people close to me. By the time college was over, I had poor short term memory.

Over the years, things got worse. I would forget what my girlfriend said the previous day, and get into arguments about it. I had trouble keeping appointments and staying on top of finances. It was frustrating. I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn’t think there was a way to snap out of it.

Then I started eating good fats. As my mood improved with my changed diet, so did my memory.

I could think more clearly, but I was also remembering things better. I felt much better about seeing friends, because I could remember what we had talked about previously. The fights over conflicting accounts faded with my girlfriend. I was able to remember to pay bills.

My mind also grew in capacity. I was able to learn things as if it were grade school again. I listened to podcasts, read books, and researched things online like never before. It was a renaissance, and I couldn’t get enough. I had forgotten how much I loved to learn, and my mind was starving. So I fed it.

The brain is the center of the nervous system. And the nervous system, including the brain, is made mostly of fat. Myelin, the white sheath over the neurons, and the stuff that makes the brain look grey and white, is fat. The electrical currents that pass between neurons, the brain, and the rest of the body are conducted along nerves that are encased by the fatty composition of myelin.

If there is a low supply of fat from food, where else would the body obtain the fat needed to produce myelin? It makes sense then that eating good fats supplies good building blocks for the conductivity of nerves. And the brain is the major nervous organ.

With this logic, I believe that eating lots of good fats has helped me to regenerate my brain.

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Why This Matters

Why does this matter? This ongoing experience tells me that a change in food changed my body. And if that’s the case, you might benefit as well.

Every person is unique. This is not just a nice thing to say to you to make you feel special. It’s truth. If you do not have the energy you want, the focus you need, the body composition that feels right, and a mind that is functioning, it is well worth your time to investigate. You need to try things, test them for positive and negative effects, and make decisions about food. This is the only way to know.

I emphasize that fats are building blocks of the body’s cells. This is important because cell membranes engage with signal molecules. It amazed me, but didn’t surprise me, to learn that the molecules which engage with cell membranes include hormones.

Insulin, steroids like cortisol, sex hormones, and ghrelin, which creates hunger feelings, are some of many hormones that are signals to make the body function well. A functional body is able to maintain balance of its internal environment. Temperature, body size, fat, bone, and muscle composition, and salt are a few things that hormones help to balance.

Now, when a person is well balanced, with a normal body, responsive hormonal production, sensible appetite, and in possession of sex hormones in the right amounts, you might think that person is pretty comfortable. They wouldn’t be too cold, or too hot, or hungry just after a meal, or overweight, or cranky.

However, if the opposite were true, and a person has an imbalanced body, hormones in excessive or limited amounts, and dysfunctional regulation of all the systems in the body, you might think they would not be very comfortable.

I believe I am a good person. I want to be happy, I want my family and my friends to be happy, and I want my neighbors and the world in general to be happy. I want to help someone if I can. I have passions for creating beautiful things, and I like to work hard and do my best. I think almost all people are like me. Very few want to destroy life and cause pain.

I also believe that people are not able to think clearly, act in accordance with their values, and make wholesome decisions if they are fundamentally uncomfortable. I think it’s really hard to build a life that you want if your body is out of whack. It’s difficult to put in sustained, good work toward a steady goal when you are constantly hungry, unreasonably emotional, and have no energy.

And I think that fundamentally, what a person eats provides the building blocks for their destiny. Yes, a few are incredibly strong and able to overcome sub-optimal bodily function. These few have built amazing lives despite poor diets and disagreeable bodies.

But most people have a lot of trouble with health. Most people are suffering because they don’t have good building blocks to make a body that functions well.

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A body that functions well supports a mind that operates well. A mind that operates well manifests a soul that means well. For me, lots of good fats provided an overhaul of my health. There are many other things I incorporated besides fats. But I believe through logical thinking that good fats are the central element of the diet that brings wellness in my body, mind, and soul.

Here are examples of good fats and other foods that I eat to build wellness. Research, try, test, decide.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Build Your Squat Episode 2

Brilliant People.

In this episode, I talk about how to ease into the squat, and what to do with your feet, your knees, and your butt. If this is your first time ever, it’s a good quick intro to squatting. Even if you’ve just been out of practice for a while, or if you’re a hardcore weight lifter, take a second to look at your squat technique.

It takes just a few things for you to maximize your output, strengthen your knees, and use your back correctly with the squat. My priority is to help you do this ultimate human movement the right way. Train with these few simple mental cues and build your squat to enhance your life.

Be gentle, take it slow, and build with care.

Live powerfully!

Steve

Build Your Squat: Episode 1

Hey guys,

I’m really excited to be putting out my first video on how to squat. I believe the squat is the ultimate human movement, and I want to show you how. I’m going to just go with my gut and bring you different aspects of the squat through each progressive episode. With that being said, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you.

This episode of Build Your Squat is an intro to squatting. We look at the squat basics and cover concepts that can help a beginner as well as an intermediate powerlifter. I know there’s a lot in this one. If you have never done a squat before, I encourage you to just chew on the information in this video and visualize yourself doing a squat. Don’t worry about using weights, don’t worry about getting it perfect. It’s more important that you are thinking about the squat and that we’re starting this conversation.

Thank you so much for checking it out. Please share your insights with people who come to mind!

Live powerfully,

Steve

The Brilliant Beast Blog by email

What I’ve Been Chewing

I know it’s been too long since I’ve written to you.

I’ve been traveling and figuring things out lately, and haven’t sat down to write in a while. There’s lots I want to share with you. Here are several things I’ve been pondering, developing, and talking about with people around me. Most of them you’ve seen from my blog before, but wellness is never a one-time deal for me. Being healthy is about practice, trying, developing, and building layers.

These items mostly came out of traveling and being “on the road”, meaning no gym, no permanent home, limited resources for training and cooking. I hope you find this useful, whether or not you’re traveling. After all, I started a lot of these things while working in a corporate office and living in Los Angeles. So it’s all transferable. Here they are.

Gentleness

There’s a book I love called The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness, by Pema Chodron. It’s about the wisdom in accepting your circumstances, loving yourself, and not rebelling against who you are. The book is written by a Buddhist teacher, mostly for people seeking the philosophy and technique behind Zen meditation. I read this in college, and the book has carried over to all other aspects of my life. Including physical training.

One of the biggest downfalls of the fitness industry is that consumers are not encouraged to take things slow, to work on themselves gently, and to train for the long game. Trainers, coaches, supplement companies, and magazines are full of the notion that the body has to be broken to become better. It’s your body. You don’t have to break it, or suffer, to become stronger. That’s not how things work.

In the short run, you might get big muscles, snaky veins, and a six pack. I understand the need to have these things. It’s been pounded into our psyches by mass media, and it’s part of our primordial urge to be fit. But what about the long run? Will you be well, functional, pain free, and freely moving years, decades down the road? Do you care?

There is a way to be strong and to remain strong for the long game. And that way involves gentleness. It requires you to learn about your body in every possible way as you develop your wellness. Be gentle with your eating. Be gentle with your body, your moving, your training. Be gentle with your mind. This comes into play when you realize that you are not going to get some specific result immediately. Eating a salad today won’t make you skinny, lean, and virile tomorrow. And it doesn’t help to eliminate fats, proteins, and carbs from your diet. See how going rough leads you into a downward spiral?

Step back, make gentle pushes, observe results. Test yourself, but don’t break yourself. The object of the game is to grow, to learn, to be healthy, happy, and capable.

Barefoot training

Feet have a structure and function that work only when they are unhindered. You have the ability to redevelop your foot structure, the right stance, the right walk, and the right movement patterns. It starts with taking off your shoes. Go barefoot at home, around the hood, and wherever you can in the outdoors. It’s just one of those things that gets easier the more you do it. So start tiny.

We will see many products hit the “barefoot” market. Shoes, sandals, socks, sports equipment, and hopefully even transportation that lets us be close to barefoot all day long. I think this is progress. However, these products do not make you barefoot. Simply using your bare feet is different. Barefoot cannot be replicated. A “barefoot running shoe” is not barefoot. It is a shoe.

Train barefoot. Do strength training without shoes or socks. You can do them all if you start from zero, go gently, and progress responsibly. I have done deadlifts, squats, kettlebell, and body weight exercises barefoot. Orthopedic insoles did not help me. I had prescription plastic insoles for most of my adolescent years, into college. The pain of walking, running, and standing in shoes went away like magic. But guess what the price was? My feet got flatter and weaker, more prone to strains, and less and less able to hold me up the way they are supposed to.

Then I started following Kelly Starrett, and shed the insole supports. I wore flat shoes instead. Then I wore huaraches. But nothing beat walking barefoot outside, running barefoot on the grass and sand, and lifting barefoot at the gym. These activities, over three years, rebuilt the shape and mechanism of my feet. I now have arches.

So this is where I would link you to a product that I used, but I can’t because there is no product. You just simply need to take off your shoes and socks. However, there is technique that you need to use for proper development. Just like with all other parts of your body, such as your knees, your back, and your shoulders, for example, feet have a correct position and movement pattern. Place your weight on the parts that are meant to hold weight: the sole, the outer blade, the balls of your feet, and the toes. You’ll see that your arch, or insole if you don’t yet have an arch, doesn’t have to touch the ground. You’ll feel that springiness in your step. Walking, running, jumping. Try them all barefoot.

Figure it out and rebuild yourself from the ground up. If you need coaching, I can help.

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Fat first

From five years of self experimentation, drinking butter coffee almost every morning, traveling and eating for optimal energy, and talking with others experimenting with eating more fat, I continue to find that “fat first” works. This means eating fat for the first meal of the day, whether that be in the morning or afternoon or night. It means eating fat before eating other foods during any meal, or at least at the same time. Try grass fed butter melted into rice. And “fat first” means making sure to eat good fats, from good sources. Why?

Because fat is filling, fat is the building block of cell membranes and your nervous system and your brain, and fat gives you energy. Eating good fat from healthy animals ensures that you get the nutrition your body and brain needs before you fill up on other things like starch. Eating fat first means you get satisfaction and feel fuller from it. It helps guide me in my meals, because as long as I eat good fats I know how much of other stuff to eat. I feel more balanced in my urge to eat rice, veggies, and meat when I am eating good fats. Don’t think I don’t eat carbs. I eat lots of carbs, because I need it for my body composition, level of training, and daily activity. But my eating is moderated by the fat I’m eating. I guess I can say that fat is my primary source of satiety and energy, and my starting point for measuring hunger and portions.

Here’s an example of how fat is my nutrition measuring tool: if I feel the munchies, cravings, or urge to eat dessert at night, despite having eaten dinner, I’ll rewind through the day to see how much fat I’ve eaten. Most times, I’ll realize I forgot to mix butter into my rice, or didn’t have my usual butter coffee, or didn’t get the chance to eat any good quality fat that day. If I can, I slap a slab of grass fed cow butter onto some sweet potato and have at it. Fat first.

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Kids and perfect form

I am fascinated by kids who are allowed to develop physically without the restraints of bulky sneakers, cribs, seats, and overprotection. My friend lets his son walk, run, roam, climb, and play more than most parents I’ve seen. He also lets him do this barefoot, even outside. When shoes are necessary, they are soft, flat on the bottom, and flexible enough for the feet to do their natural job. The result is incredible.

My friend’s son is a dense-bodied mover, and he is able to hold his core rigid when he’s lifted off the ground, flipped overhead, and swung back down. He holds perfect spine alignment as he deadlifts a suitcase off the floor. This beloved mini-athlete sometimes gets into a yogic child pose, stretches out on his belly, and lifts his arms and legs off the floor in a reverse plank. It’s all play to him. And he’s barely a year and a half old.

I laugh and marvel at his feats of mobility and strength. At the same time, I feel excited about what this little kid represents. He shows me it’s possible to have a perfect squat as natural and easy as yawning. He proves to me that movements like the deadlift and positions like straight feet and straight spine in the squat are natural. It gives me an example to follow. Since the kid hasn’t been molded into cushy shoes, and since he hasn’t been confined to classroom chairs, his movements are intact. He pushes his limits all the time in the weight of the bins he lifts, the suitcases he pushes, and the stairs he climbs.

Doing these things is challenging in themselves, but doing them with minimal risk of injury and optimal strength is natural only because limitations are not yet put on our little friend. So what if you’re starting today, having already gone through the body-morphing gauntlet of “civilization”? You’re not alone. Modern life’s walls came up, boxed you into the appropriate shapes, and contracted your physical and spiritual expressions into the norms of the day.

It’s not about being a kid, or about glorifying childhood or youthfulness. No. Just look at the human form in its beginning stages, and you can find movement and position as it was meant to be. You can train your malleable body to obtain the strength, movement, and positions of human expression. The full squat, the unhindered overhead arms, the use of joint torque, and spine alignment are all obtainable with training and practice. Possessing natural physical expression and the strength to maintain it will free your mind and soul to build toward your greatest goals.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Swingin’ Iron

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Best gym floor, ever.

I’ve been forcefully hauling this iron ball, to and fro, between my legs. It’s fun. Here are my first thoughts on kettlebell training.

Two months ago I “picked up” the book, Kettlebell – Simple and Sinister. It is written by Pavel Tsatsouline, Russian trainer and founder of StrongFirst. He is the father of kettlebell training in the U.S. I am grateful to him for his straightforward instruction and commentary on starting kettlebell training. Get the audio version. It rocks.

The long drive to the only suitable powerlifting gym in town rendered it useless to me. After taking up the 16kg kettlebell, which is the basic Russian unit 1 pood, I never once stepped foot in a “gym” in the last two months. Home and the local park are now my gym. Swinging and getting up with this little cannonball, by its handle, has taught me so much about my nervous system, my shoulders, and the little cracks in my strength that powerlifting does not directly address.

Most of my strength training techniques for powerlifting translate directly to kettlebell training. Absolute emphasis on form and technique; mental cues to wire them into my system; rest and recovery; breathing and abdominal pressure; and progression.

I had to get used to the type of progression that kettlebell training presented. Unlike powerlifting progression, where weight can progress with every new session, kettlebell training weight remains the same for long periods of time. As a matter of fact, I’ve been using the same weight since I began two months ago!

It doesn’t trouble me, though. The weight is heavy to begin with, and there’s much to learn in properly handling it. This is where the development happens. Swinging a 35 lb. hunk of iron, as smoothly cast as it may be, is no walk in the park. Learning to do so while keeping the spine intact, holding the shoulders in place, and creating torque through the feet and body gets complicated from moment zero.

The progression unfolds in mastering the movements, and in increasing the force, power, and focus on the kettlebell as strength gets better. By learning to handle the weight, I am building the physical parts and the neurological programs of my body that are involved. It’s similar to powerlifting, but with more emphasis on the learning. Powerlifting requires learning, of course. But once you learn the technique and form, the emphasis is on the weight progression.

There is definitely a big difference between squatting 135 pounds and squatting 315 pounds. However, with kettlebell training the weight jumps to 16kg at the start, then to 24 kg, and then to 32 kg, and so forth. The “catch up” with each weight progression is much greater than in powerlifting. I would never have a trainee jump from a 135 lb. squat to 1.5x that, 205 lb., even if his technique and form were perfect. The weight jump is way too much to make any physiological sense in the frame of training.

With the kettlebell, though, the weight is smaller. So jumping from 16 kg to 24 kg is probably going to be difficult, but not ridiculously so. I am confident that I will be able to safely train to the next weight when the time comes. Which is soon!

Right now, the hardest part is resting. This always seems to be the sticking point for me. Simply getting good sleep is a task that tends to evade me when I need it most. I’ve been training nearly every day, with a rest day approximately once a week. When I don’t get that rest, I can feel it in the lack of power on my swing. It just seems so much harder to hip hinge forward and get that maximal explosion. Like I’m moving through molasses.

I’m sticking through it and am now able to get in 100 swings, alternating one armed, and ten getups within half an hour. It will soon be time to up the weight. Soon, but not until I can do the sets strong, as Pavel says. Not until I can own each and every swing and getup at one pood.

Read the book before you start training. Let me know if you do train with the kettlebell. What was it like toward the transition period to the next weight?

Live powerfully,

Steve

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I link to tools I have found to be useful and meaningful.

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Copyright © 2016 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.

No Time To Train

The biggest reason most people stop going to the gym.

With anything you want to prioritize, the hard part is getting it to the top of your list of important things to do. Work. Love. Meals. Rest. Hobbies. Sleep. Sometimes it’s a wonder we ever used to go to the gym.

There’s a lot of cost in exercising. The gym membership. The changing into workout clothes, the drive there, the energy needed to do a workout, the drive back, and the shower, on top of everything else that needs to be done in the evening. Training is not happening because it’s hard.

Even with the benefits you’ve seen in the past, it’s hard to get yourself to do it regularly again. It’s hard for most people. That’s why you don’t see many fifty-year-old’s with six-pack abs. Let alone thirty-year-olds. Speaking of abs, let’s go back to the part about the benefits.

From the start, going to the gym was about the benefits. Having a trim belly, growing muscles, feeling strong, feeling your body thrive. Moving through space by your own strength, and speed, and agility.

With anything you prioritize, you think of the benefits of getting that thing done. And the benefits outweigh the hardship of doing it. Being fit is amazing, but after a while other things got in the way. Your body changed, and suddenly it feels like all that hard work in the past was for nothing. The hard work seems too hard to do now.

That’s because the benefits have faded. If you’re stuck in the mentality that you’ve already done it, and already reaped the rewards, you’re going to have trouble getting in the mindset that you are no longer in that same position of success. Yes, you were once athletic. You were once fit. You were once able to perform well.

But if it’s not true anymore, it’s important that you adjust yourself to that reality. This is the first step in getting to the place where you can dream of the benefits again. And you can dream and visualize and thirst for the success of fitness to the point that the hard work is tiny in comparison to the reward you will reap.

See yourself clearly as you are. See yourself clearly as you will be. See it, and see it, and see it. Think on it, dwell on it, dream of it. And commit to the hard work in between you and that success.

You’ll notice later, as you look back on this moment, that time has shaped itself around training.

Live powerfully!

Steve

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Getting Down To The Bottom Of It

Can I fully squat?

It’s a simple question I ask myself every day. The answer tells me the capacity I have for movement and function. The depth and comfort of my squat tells me how comfortable my daily living is going to be. It tells me my capacity for the little emergencies and sudden movements required through life.

For example, walking can be uncomfortable when my upper quads, or hip flexors, are tight. That area gets stiff from a lot of sitting, particularly if I’m sitting in a chair (I prefer the ground). Walking is also affected by ankle mobility. If my calves are tight, stepping is going to be limited. My ankles aren’t going to be able to bend and flex in a smooth manner.

Just because of these two tight areas, I would need to compensate with other motions. When I have tight hip flexors, my instinct is to lean forward to avoid overstretching them. A forward leaning posture, however slight, will require reverse forces to stop a forward fall. This usually takes the form of arms swinging back more, or head tilting back, or reaction from the low back.

Tight ankles result in outward pointing feet. Since my ankles won’t freely bend to allow my foot to stay planted in a forward position, the shortcut is to turn the foot outward. This allows the ankle to stay stiff while the leg passes over the insole. It’s easier forward movement, but it compromises the rest of the leg mechanism.

The long term result? Outward toes, pronated feet, shins over insoles; knees turned out with body weight toward the inside; femurs rotated outward within the hip joint; ligaments, tendons, and musculature settled into misaligned positions. Joints get pressure in vulnerable spots. The skeletal system misaligned. Soft tissues end up shortened or lengthened and less functional.

One misstep, one sudden lunge out of the way of a car, a quick grab for my bag, or an unexpected weight, can result in a seemingly disproportionate injury. Why do people “throw out their backs”? It’s not because of some gargantuan task they were attempting. It’s usually from doing an ordinary task, something benign. The enormity comes from the long term build up of improper form that results in improper physiology.

But mobilizing is not about the fear of injury happening. I strive for wellness. I mobilize because I enjoy walking without limitation. I enjoy being able to take life’s surprises in stride without skipping a beat. I love that I can have this through my own simple work. Small daily actions keep me moving smoothly. With mobility I keep myself prepared. And I respond with ease when the dogs lunge for a squirrel.

Aside from the physical manifestations of being mobile, I also benefit in mind and spirit. It’s much easier to think deep, feel deep, and appreciate when I don’t have something tugging me at the back of my mind – or the back my body.

So, can you fully squat? If not, then mobilize. Little by little, every day. You will be able to.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Pillar of Strength

I was back in the gym this month for the first time in four months.

Something was funky about my squats. I kept wondering why it felt so tricky to keep my back firmly aligned. Things felt a little wobbly once I had loaded weight on the bar.

I was using torque from my feet, spreading the floor. I was pulling out on my knees. I was keeping my butt engaged. And my shoulders were back and down, tight. But I felt like the torque from my legs was bleeding out somewhere, not making it all the way up to the bar.

What was going on?

Then I got a gut feeling. Literally. My gut. I had forgotten all about belly pressure.

Abdomen Pressure

Your belly is a powerful element for exertion. It provides structure for the most strenuous power outputs in life. Lifting a heavy load on your shoulders, hauling something off the ground, and pushing a dead car down the road all require you to keep your belly tight for maximal effort.

It’s because your belly is critical in transferring power from the feet to the point of push or pull. How, when it’s the softest part of the body?

The softness is actually the key. Because your abdomen is flexible, it can act like a balloon. Suck in a deep breath, down to the diaphragm, and you find that you can tighten your belly down around that air. Now feel it. Rock hard.

Ever had your head bonked against your dad’s belly and wondered why it felt like a bowling ball? Well, he was utilizing abdominal pressure.

This balloon of pressure is the pillar through which power can transfer most efficiently from your hips up to your shoulders. When you have it firm, your belly is the connecting structure that keeps your torso sturdy.

With a deflated belly, you put most of the power transfer back on your spine. Not as rigid, not as effective.

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The Weight Belt

Now you might see the value in using a belt during your heaviest powerlifting reps. Wrap a normal belt around your midsection, just above the navel. Breathe in, down against your diaphragm, and push with your belly against the belt. Feel some power there?

I don’t think it’s advantageous to use the belt for lighter lifts. There is value in squatting and deadlifting without a belt. It helps you engage your core by itself, and you learn proper technique. Having a belt through all training, from the lightest weights, can make you depend on it and have a false sense of security.

On your heaviest lifts, though, it can be a powerful tool to scale your well-developed technique. It also helps you build your belly muscles by enabling a greater output from them.

Training Belly Pressure Without a Belt

Start without a belt, using the principle of abdominal pressure in training. Try it first without any weight on your shoulders. Do body weight squats, taking in a deep breath and pressing your belly against it, and hold it in until you squat and stand back up. Then release the breath.

Hold and release your breath for each rep. You may need to take a little breather in between. Don’t pass out. You need oxygen to stay conscious and to stay healthy.

By the way this is great training for low back issues as well. The stability from your belly pressure will help you maintain spinal alignment. Use the principle for daily activities, like lifting things off the floor, picking up grocery backs, and taking out the trash.

Ask me something. I’ll answer.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Summer’s Dusk, Dogs, and the Travel Bug

August has passed the seasonal baton to September. Nights are cooler in California. A northwestern wind continues to breeze through Silicon Valley. The air feels a bit drier in my nose.

The trees have been brushed with a layer of crimson. Just lightly over the tops, the paintbrush of fall is sweeping over our green trees.

In the afternoon, the sun is out and it’s beautiful. It makes everything it touches amazing. It glows and flows into everything else. The dark spots on the dogs’ coats absorbs its energy as we go around the neighborhood. When I rub them down later I feel the radiating heat from their furry backs.

The days are still too hot for our canine companions to do much other than pant. The last couple of weeks have been a battle with fleas for them. I’m learning the necessity of routine and rigor in keeping pests away. We’re just coming to the tail end of the fight, excuse the pun.

We’re going to be in California for the next few weeks, at least. The next leg of travel will most likely be through the rest of southeast Asia that we haven’t been able to visit. We don’t know when that will be yet. I’m grateful to my mom for letting us stay with her during this time.

For now, it’s time for rest, meditation, and exercise. It helped to have some strength built up for the traveling we just did, and I want to continue this cycle of building and then losing through using. Naturally, without regular gym access I’m going to lose the full capacity of my strength. But it’s nice to start from a place of a bit of surplus strength and muscle.

We can plan more vigorous trips at the beginning, and head for more developed and less taxing places later. Seems natural enough to me.

The one hack I’d like to keep developing is retaining strength and mobility through travel. Honing in on a reliable and effective diet when away from home is essential. But there’s also supplementation that helps, and I want to figure out better ways to pack and sustain our supply. If you have tips from experience I’d love to hear from you.

Outside of gym training, I think it’s the perfect time of the year to hike. It’s cool enough in the morning for the exertion, but not so cold as to require long pants. We just may go the next chance we get.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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See the dogs on Snapchat!

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily